Creating a Spectacle: Hot Wheels invades the Indy 500
Making a spectacle of oneself is something mothers worldwide have frowned upon for centuries. I’m certain everyone - from Gandhi to Hitler to Mohammed to Elton John – had a loved one at some point in time insisting they refrain from drawing attention to themselves. Obviously, very little would happen in the world if these folks (and others) had actually taken the advice. For some, the desire to be seen and heard is outright impossible to deny. For the rest of us, we’re fairly content to sit back and enjoy the blasts of color provided by those incapable of heeding a mother’s concerns.
One such splash of color went by the name Evel Knievel and the guy literally owned the seventies. In many respects, he almost single-handedly defined spectacle for an entire generation. A man of many appetites, Robert Craig Knievel’s early years revolved as much around indigence as troublemaking. Basically, whenever he finally found the energy to get busy he seemed to get himself into hot water. Eventually, he discovered almost by accident (hmmm, some foreshadowing there...) that by doing little more than jumping his motorbike over assorted items people would pay him money. He then learned that as the things he jumped over increased in size so too did his payday. A fairly simple formula developed and “Evel” Knievel was born. He became a juggernaut of marketing and promotion, setting the template for many of the notional methods employed behind the kind of big event or “spectacle” marketing we know and love today.
Tearing a page right out of good Mr. Knievel’s playbook, Hot Wheels has invaded the 2011 Indy 500 with a spectacle so insane and over the top that it actually threatens to overshadow the race itself. No small feat to say the least. Now, I’ve waxed about my love for Hot Wheels before but nothing could have prepared me for this incredible modern blast from my Evel Knievel-centric past. The plan is to send a modified stunt truck down from a 100 foot tall tower and over a ramp, flying it some 300 feet in the air before landing to the delight of the millions assembled and at home. The hook is that the entire track will be fashioned to look like a traditional Hot Wheels track affixed to a bedroom door, mimicking an in-home Hot Wheels stunt I and millions of other boys and girls have done time immemorial. The spectacle of shooting a real-world sized truck down the impossible incline of a life-sized Hot Wheels track is almost too good to be true. That a world record is at stake is just icing on the cake.
I have to say, in a world of WWE, X-Games, Monster Trucks and Jersey Shore I never thought I’d see or hear of anything that made me go “Wow, now that’s something I’ve gotta see.” It’s like travelling back in time when you would hear about Evel proposing something mental like jumping the fountains at Caesar’s Palace or suggesting he might strap himself into a rocket and be fired over the Snake River Canyon. The event rarely lived up to excitement created by the idea itself, but the feeling you had considering it at all was almost magical.
Now I do realize the danger inherent when one genuflects too readily toward spectacle. If you do it once, the only way you can do it again is if it’s bigger and more insane than before. Our buddy Evel learned that (and paid for it, repeatedly). The only way he could sell tickets to the next jump was to add one more car each time – adding broken bones more often than he added feet to his records.
Still, I remain compelled to participate in this however I am able. As a little kid I drove my Hot Wheels around incessantly and dreamed I was driving at top speed over real ramps and life-sized loop the loops. As a boy I watched Evel Knievel and jumped my pedal bike over rocks that stood in for piled up cars and casino fountains. I knew I wasn’t really doing it. Mom said I shouldn’t – and she was right. I’d have killed myself for sure. But the others that were willing to do it for me, well, I just appreciated them so darn much. Their insanity and their willingness to make a spectacle of themselves ensured that I didn’t have to. So I think it’s great that someone like Hot Wheels has decided to step up and make a real scene. It should help me avoid making a spectacle of myself for at least another few years or so.